A ‘Dah-ling’ of a Laugh Fest: Celia Rivenbark’s book-turned-play makes Southern life all the more bearable
Wilmingtonians covet their Southern darling, Mrs. Celia Rivenbark, who has won encore’s Best Writer award numerous years running on our annual reader’s poll. She knows a thing or two about the South, which one can read all about on Sundays in her StarNews column and in one of her many satirical books, including 2013’s “Rude Bitches Make Me Tired.” Rivenbark showcases a sharp tongue and quick wit about life under the Mason-Dixon line, and in the midst of rearing a family—with “Duh Hubby” and her daughter, “The Princess,” included. It’s a send-up of dealing with everyday people who sometimes just ain’t got the good sense God gave a goose.
“Rude Bitches” is an etiquette book that reads like Rivenbark’s list of pet peeves and how the world should react in dealing with them in a “mannerly” fashion. Whether it’s overcoming road rage, teaching teenagers how to drive, or dealing with the diets of all her gluten-free friends, her words transition quite nicely to a dinner-theatre setting. As most people have come to expect, this style of theatre can be quirky and even tawdry at times. While much of it is suitable for families, please, take note: “Rude Bitches” (if you can’t judge by its title) is absolutely not. Actually, it includes brazen vulgarity which I adore. There’s something quite satisfying about hearing an upright Southern belle say “fuck” a few times in her quintessential drawl and without a hint of irony.
The show is set up like a Q&A to answer life’s overbearing questions—like what does one do with freak playground moms who don’t vaccinate their kids, or how does one deal in a marriage when the wife loves Duke and the husband loves Carolina? It’s all tongue-and-cheek fodder for a chuckle that takes away the seriousness of life, at least for three hours.
“Rude Bitches” is well-cast to deliver the laughs in multitudes. Each member acts as Rivenbark, the narrator, and take on other roles to act out her advice. Melissa Stanley stands out with the best dialect, from dropping her “r’s” most appropriately (“dah-ling’) to ensuring every syllable is drawn out for pristine punctuation and punchy sarcasm. She gets lost in every character, as if inside jokes run amuck in her brain. Her smirk alone is finely tuned and adorable. Stanley’s scene at the grocery remains most memorable, wherein she takes her dutiful time to check out. While rudely holding up the line, as if she didn’t know she had to actually pay the cashier at the end, she digs through her purse slowly, only to find scarves, notebooks, and even a dildo instead of her wallet. Sure, it’s a cheap, over-the-top laugh, but it works in a Chelsea Handler kind of way.
Katherine Rudeseal reminds me of my own cousin. Sweetly and innocently, she means no harm when she plays “ice breaker” at a dinner party; she simply struggles in figuring out the top three people, dead or alive, she would want to dine with—especially when Jesus already has been taken. (Doesn’t Jesus always make his way into Southern writing?) Rudeseal brings an at-ease glow to the show: never too eager to be rude, because that’s not ladylike, but really struggling to maintain niceties. She’s the typical Southern lady who would say “bless her heart” after dealing with the kind of person who may be three bricks shy of a load. The only downfall of her performance from Friday night comes from a few missed lines and cues.
Jordan Mullaney, comedian of Pineapple-Shaped Lamps’ fame, really shines as the annoyed Princess whose moodiness challenges her parents. Her slouchy demeanor, constant eye-rolls, and sassy mouth nail many high-school days from my own household. Belinda Keller as her mother, tired of dealing with the teen ‘tude, takes me back to a family vacation in Beverly Hills, California, when my own father pulled the exact stunt Keller plays out onstage. Instead of scolding her child’s bad manners, Keller simply embarrasses The Princess by rolling down the windows and blaring Jay-Z at a stoplight while hip-hop dancing for all the world to see.
I have been there, and it works. My father’s thumping of the Beastie Boys on Rodeo Drive with my sisters and I hunched in the back seat, completely mortified, kept us minding our p’s and q’s for the rest of the trip. Rivenbark nails it when she writes that humiliation almost always keeps a teenager in check. Keller’s interpretation brings exasperation without exhaustion to the stage. And isn’t that what child-rearing is about: finding a balance to creatively guide and scold without being overworked?
TheatreNOW’s executive director, Zach Hanner, adapts Rivenbark’s work to stage with accessible blocking that doesn’t hinder the performances. He even maintains a few roles throughout the show, like a cop, co-worker, and husband. All of his easy transitions help propel the series of inquiries cohesively since there is no plot. The sketches move seamlessly thanks to a simple set-up of six chairs and a table. Actors move the furniture easily to ride in a car or enter a plane (the absolute best sketch of the night, which indulges everyone on the proper way to board and not annoy other passengers).
Hanner’s use of multi-media adds to the laughs, from memes punctuating dialogue to having Rivenbark welcome guests and offer insight into her writings via video. My only complaint: eating dinner while a photo of a snotty-nose of kid illuminates on the big screen—definitely not mannerly.
Rivenbark attended and laughed through the show with pride—and rightfully so. She and her group of friends sat next to my table, and simply all were thrilled to see sold-out success on opening night (in fact, tickets are going quickly, so folks should get ‘em now). The support of loved ones is certainly great, but, perhaps Rivebark’s next book can cover the etiquette of how to properly see a live show. Many people talked loudly through the performance, hindering comprehension of some dialogue. Dinner theater already suffers from sounds of glasses shifting and ice bins functioning. Still, it’s forgivable—everyone’s excitement was endearing. And, come to find out, some of the skits were written about Rivenbark’s own friends. Must be fun to run in her circle—bless their hearts!
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired
Fri. – Sat. through 4/26, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $36 ($2 donation to Interfaith Hospitality Network)
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th Street